BEIJING/JAKARTA – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday (July 26) sought Indonesia’s support in upholding “open regionalism”, as Beijing steps up efforts against Washington’s push to marshal regional countries against China.
“China and Indonesia should help each other and demonstrate the responsibility of major developing countries, practise true multilateralism, adhere to open regionalism, and provide oriental wisdom and Asian strength to advance global governance,” said Mr Xi.
He was speaking during a rare face-to-face meeting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Beijing.
Mr Widodo, as president of the Group of 20 (G-20) this year, extended an invitation to Mr Xi to attend the grouping’s summit, which will be held in Bali in November.
A joint statement from both countries said the Chinese leader had expressed his thanks, although no firm response from Mr Xi was given.
“There is a possibility that Xi Jinping will attend in person but the final decision has not been made yet. There are a lot of uncertainties with the pandemic,” said Dr Xu Liping, director of the Centre for South-east Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
“But if the pandemic situation does not worsen, I think there is a good chance of this happening.”
Mr Xi’s attendance at the G-20 summit would be a big coup for Indonesia. Mr Xi has not left China since around the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Experts say China sees Indonesia – which will also chair the Asean regional bloc next year – as a key partner in ensuring Asean and the wider region remains neutral amid intensifying geopolitical rivalry between Beijing and Washington.
“Indonesia can play a very important role in keeping the region open and inclusive in this complex international situation… Look at the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) – it’s very obvious that this is an effort to exclude some countries,” said Dr Xu, referring to the Biden administration’s initiative to engage countries in the region. IPEF is seen as a move to curb China’s economic influence in the region.
Mr Bhima Yudhistira, director at the Centre of Economic and Law Studies in Jakarta, said Indonesia has sought to remain neutral amid the geopolitical hostilities, in line with its long-held “independent and active” foreign policy.
“Indonesia has been dividing the cake between China and the US, in that it leans more towards China in terms of economic cooperation, and towards the US for military matters. Indonesia needs US support militarily,” he said.
China is Mr Widodo’s first stop in a tour of three East Asian countries. He will travel to Tokyo and then Seoul over the next two days, where he will meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
The Indonesian leader is the first foreign head of state to meet Mr Xi in person since the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.
Mr Bhima also said Mr Widodo had a strategic aim of ensuring that Chinese support in joint projects in Indonesia continues despite a looming global recession and Indonesia’s coming general election in 2024.
In his opening remarks before the meeting, Mr Widodo had said he hoped to discuss various areas of cooperation including in trade, investment, infrastructure, finance, and maritime areas.
“The opportunity to increase the amount of trade is very large,” he said.
In his meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, both sides discussed boosting bilateral trade, according to a statement by Indonesia’s presidential secretariat.
Beijing committed to increase imports of crude palm oil from Indonesia by one million tonnes and prioritise imports of agricultural produce from the country.
China is Indonesia’s largest trading partner, with two-way trade hitting US$110 billion (S$153 billion) last year, according to Indonesian trade figures. Beijing is also Jakarta’s third-largest investor, with total investment reaching US$3.2 billion.